America's greatest songwriter remains inscrutable as he receives the nation's highest civilian honor.
When the White House announced that Bob Dylan would receive the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, it inspired a round of snarky quotations (yes, yes, "even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked," we've all heard it), as well as wonder: The great figurehead of the 1960s counterculture was going right into the heart of the establishment. How would he go about it?
Now we know: Wearing an odd jacket, with his hair tousled, his recent trademark pencil mustache in place, and a pair of aviators on his nose. The songwriter certainly looked rather diffident, but attempting to interpret Dylan's oracular pronouncements is a difficult and often foolish (though still popular) game. After receiving the medal he politely clapped the president on the arm, then shuffled back to his seat.
Dylan and Obama are both known as inspiring wordsmiths who are rather cool and detached in person, but one might expect by this point that they'd developed something of a rapport. Obama has long praised Dylan, and talked about listening to him as a young man again during the Tuesday event. In 2008, Dylan -- who began his career with explicitly political songs, but not long after turned away and has never really gone back -- seemed to offer Obama his support, the closest thing to a true endorsement veteran watchers could recall. "[W]e've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up -- Barack Obama," Dylan said. "He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to." In 2010, Dylan took part in a concert at the White House celebrating the music of the civil-rights movement, though he took off before a group singalong of "Free at Last." But if any personal chemistry between the two men has developed, it was hard to detect on Tuesday.